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Making a name for itself
BEVERLY, Mass.—Agencourt Bioscience Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Beckman Coulter Inc., recently won a major sequencing contract from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for the company's Genomic Services division, after a competitive bidding process. Under the agreement, NCI will supply Agencourt with normal and cancer tumor tissue samples and periodic lists of genes and targeted regions to be sequenced.
The goal of the project is to provide NCI research collaborators with a consistent, cost-effective, high-throughput sequencing resource. NCI collaborators who are working on cancer genomics research may request the sequencing of specific genes at any time. The initial term of the contract is one year.
There is an option to renew for a second year, which is likely to happen, says Dr. Lynn Doucette-Stamm, vice president of business development for Agencourt. "Basically, the second year would be very similar to the first year—that's the way the contract is written. The main reason to have the option for a second year is that the question will arise, 'Do we have enough data that are publicly available yet?' And that's highly unlikely after only a single year."
The other reason to make the second year a possibility rather than a foregone conclusion, of course, is to give NCI a way to get out if it doesn't like Agencourt's work, Doucette-Stamm notes. But the company had a contract from NCI some years back for a different purpose and Agencourt was "very successful in meeting their need then, which we expect would be the case here, too," she says.
NCI collaborators will submit sequence trace data to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and the base calls will be placed in a database managed by the NCI. Agencourt will also develop a special Web site that is accessible by project collaborators. This site, with the posted information, will allow NCI collaborators to query the NCBI Trace database for additional metadata and relate it to other experimental results and clinical data by bio-specimen ID.
One challenge is that researchers using this system would be scattered all over the country. Since there isn't a single distinct group working on the data, Doucette-Stamm says, they needed to make sure the database is easy to use for anyone. Another distinguishing point of the online database, she says, is that once sequencing is done, the data will be posted immediately, keeping the system as real-time as possible.
The field of cancer genomics is a key focus of Agencourt Genomic Services, and that is one reason for the company winning the bidding process for the contract, Doucette-Stamm notes. In late 2006, the company announced that its Genomic Services were integral in a Johns Hopkins study on the genetic code for breast and colon cancers, and a widely publicized report on that study was co-authored by James Hartigan, an Agencourt project manager. The research identified close to 200 mutated genes, now linked to these cancers, most of which were not previously recognized as associated with tumor initiation, growth, spread or control. More recently, in October, Agencourt followed up on that effort with some addition work with Johns Hopkins on breast and colon cancer that, among other things, catalogs the genetic changes that occur during tumorigenesis.